The Green Butchers


The Green Butchers Review

In the strange new Danish import, The Green Butchers, the porcine owner of a butcher shop waxes philosophically on the "mythological" implications of sausage, specifically, on the God-like act of mockery in killing an animal and then stuffing its innards up its own ass. That he says this with the fervor of a tragic Norse hero to a somewhat horrified old lady who manages to nod and squeak her assent makes for a bit of subversive comedy at its chuckle-worthy best. More than that, though, the exchange neatly encases a major theme in writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen's satire: That society at large delights in gorging on itself -- getting fat on the recycled refuse of its materialistic (or, in this case, gastronomic) excess, and the idea that we, as individuals, cannibalize our pasts to feed our grudges in the present. It sounds rather high-minded but Jensen's real success in an otherwise mixed bag of a movie is how cleanly he cleaves to his story -- developing character, infusing dialogue with thematic meaning and binding everything together with tight but breathable plotting -- to come up with an honest but erratic combination of mordent social commentary and sweet-natured character study.

Butchery and death comprise a kind of purgatory for Jensen's pair of main characters. Svend (Mads Mikkelsen), a butcher's assistant with a savage inferiority complex, may vent his bitterness over his miserable parentless childhood though his meat cleaver, but it's through his prized marinade that he hopes to win the love of others--something he's yearned for his whole life. Svend opens his own butcher shop, determined to succeed, and persuades Bjarne (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a fellow butcher (and only friend, it seems), to join him. On the surface, Svend and Bjarne seem wholly unlike each other: Svend is egotistical and peevish while Bjarne is a brooding recluse floating through life in a haze of pot smoke and a choking anger towards his comatose brother, Eigil, whom Bjarne blames for the long-ago death of his wife and parents. It's Bjarne's indifference to life that's led him to butchery and, moreover, to tolerating Svend's dicing up human corpses and passing them off as chicken fillets at his shop counter. Soon, hordes of customers, all blissfully unaware of what's in those delectable "chickie wickies" (let alone the corpses hanging in the meat locker) are lined up around the block, turning Svend into an instant--though privately chagrined--celebrity.

Svend's cannibalistic gambit gives Butchers its amoral kick, but it's Bjarne who gives it heart and thematic heft. Bjarne's life alters drastically after the miraculously revived Eigil (also played, quite hilariously, by Kaas) shows up, toting a stuffed giraffe doll, eager from his brother's attention. Eigil's brain is now as vital as a Nerf football, but his oafish grin and animal-loving soul make him an endearing counterpoint to the grudge-bearing Bjarne who immediately rejects Eigil. In one of Jensen's predictable maneuvers, it's through Bjarne's romance with Astrid (Line Kruse), the pretty and warmhearted daughter of the town's cemetery proprietor, that Bjarne slowly learns to shed his grievances.

The Green Butchers bills itself as a "pitch black comedy," but, its morbid premise aside, Jensen's script lacks the merciless bite that black comedy demands. Certainly, there's a delicious peppering of it here and there -- the tossed-off bit of absurdity and deadpan humor culled from the comic ingredients of cannibalism and retardation. But, Butchers, tonally, is a mess; its blackest shades are diluted by its desire to please as a whimsical fable -- one packaged with its own self-serious score and syrupy resolution -- on the subjects of love, acceptance and the joys of making marinade that does not rely human by-product. Still, Jensen's movie is spiced by standout, sharply timed performances by Mikkelson and Kass and by his own knack for craft, in which all narrative details (even that of the stuffed giraffe doll) are neatly carved and arranged along The Green Butchers' dark, enticing countertop.

Aka De Grønne slagtere.

Try the strip steak!

The Green Butchers

Facts and Figures

Run time: 100 mins

In Theaters: Friday 21st March 2003

Distributed by: Newmarket Films

Production compaines: M&M Productions

Reviews 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Fresh: 17 Rotten: 10

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Astrid, as Svend, as Bjarne / Eigil, as Hus Hans, Aksel Erhardtsen as Villumsen, Bodil Jørgensen as Tina, Ole Thestrup as Holger, Lily Weiding as Juhl, Camilla Bendix as Beate, as Håndværker